COMMUNIST President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia is in deep trouble following international recognition of rival Croatia, and political analysts believe that he may be in danger for the first time of losing his ability to dictate the course of events even in his native Serbia.
As a result, grave doubts persist over the prospects the plan for ending the savage civil war through the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force.
"I do think we are at one of those cusps where it could go either way," said a Western diplomat. "There is a real risk that the war could start up again."
Mr. Milosevic's decision three weeks ago to embrace the proposal to deploy UN peacekeeping troops in Croatia signaled a radical shift. By cooperating in peace efforts, Milosevic apparently believed he could enhance international acceptance of his call for the a truncated Yugoslav federation comprising Serbia, Montenegro, and Serbian enclaves in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Political analysts believe his decision was also forced by growing opposition to the war within his home republic. Residents of Serbia are questioning with increasing indignation the price they have paid in economic chaos and lives lost, and there are forecasts of social turmoil in coming months. Serbs in Serbia have also become increasingly aware that the war has brought their republic international contempt as a holdout bastion of communist aggression, leaving them isolated diplomatically and economica lly.
"Mr. Milosevic is turning himself more and more to the internal problems of Serbia and the international face of Serbia's problems," said Milos Vasic, a reporter with the magazine Vreme.
But in accepting UN special envoy Cyrus Vance's proposal for the deployment of international peacekeepers, Milosevic enraged Croatia's minority Serbs, whose leaders denounced his decision as a betrayal of their cause and openly defied his demand that they accept the plan.
"Mr. Milosevic sold out the Serbs of Croatia.... They thought Mr. Milosevic was going to help them kill the Croats and solve their problem," said Mr. Vasic.
Their fury was stoked further by the European Community agreement last Wednesday to recognize Croatian independence, which preceded similar decisions by at least 25 other countries.
Milosevic has now embarked on an effort to persuade Croatia's Serbian leaders to relent in their rejection of the Vance plan. Utilizing his iron-fisted grip on Serbia's state media, Milosevic has launched a massive propaganda campaign to convince Croatia's 580,000 minority Serbs to accept his new agenda.
The appeal stresses that despite international recognition of Croatia, Serbian rebels and the Serb-dominated Army have succeeded in capturing more than 30 percent of the rival republic's territory and that the deployment of UN peacekeepers will allow them to retain control of those areas.
"Croatia actually can only be recognized within the borders inside which it has authority. In the areas which should be under UN protection, Croatia actually does not have authority," Borisav Jovic, Serbia's representative on the rump Yugoslav State Presidency, asserted Friday.
Milosevic's apparent attempt at reconcilation failed, however, when Milan Babic, the leader of Croatia's largest rebel Serbian enclave and the self-proclaimed president of the "Republic of Serbian Krajina," reiterated his rejection of the Vance plan, in an interview published yesterday in the national daily newspaper Borba, because it would require a total withdrawal from Croatia and the disarmament of his own militia.
"Without our acceptance, such a [UN] mission would be condemned to failure," he warned.